Gertie and Bridget go to the zoo
“We lost a lot of time yesterday,” Bridget said, stretching. “We need to pack up, check out, and get on the road to make up for it today.”
Gertie sighed. “Okay, I’ll take a really really fast shower.”
Bridget’s phone rang and she recognized the number of Dr. Farwell, the man who had hired them to drive across the country to deliver a package that was too magical, and too alive, to be shipped. The egg that the sisters had unknowingly bought at a yard sale was incredibly rare, and Dr. Farwell’s research center wanted a chance to study the storm owl it contained before releasing it into its natural habitat.
“Hello?” Bridget answered it on speaker so Gertie and the rest of their friends could hear.
“Miss Mallon?” Dr. Farwell asked.
“Hi! I’m so sorry to tell you this, but it seems we were not able to make the arrangements for the storm owl egg as quickly as I had thought.” He sounded very apologetic, which put Bridget on edge. “I won’t be flying back to Visby for a few more days. There are preparations to be made, both to protect the egg and to keep us safe from its magic. We can hardly have an intern playing jazz on the radio lead to the whole lab getting swept away by a tornado.”
“Oh,” was all she could say through her confusion.
“Yes. So, I need you to put off your delivery of the egg until I arrive. It should only be two or three days.”
“We’re already on the way,” Bridget said. “We’re in South Siprisia right now.”
“Yes, I’m very sorry. I’ll pay for whatever you end up doing in the meanwhile,” Dr. Farwell said. “I promise. I can send you another payment that won’t detract from your final one. Here, I’ll send it now.”
Gertie pulled up the money transfer app on her phone and showed it to Bridget. The planned payment that Dr. Farwell had set up now had an extra entry, with the final payment still scheduled for the delivery, and the new money was already in her account.
“Call me if you need anything more,” Dr. Farwell said.
“You’re very generous, Dr Farwell,” Bridget said, starting to get suspicious.
“Well, the egg shells are very valuable. After the egg hatches, we’ll be able to sell them and cover the cost of all this.”
Bridget frowned. “This is very important to your organization, isn’t it?”
Dr. Farwell sounded quite earnest as he said, “You have no idea how important it is that this egg is well cared for.”
“We could, if you’d tell us.”
He paused for a long time at that. The sisters had done some research after finding out what the egg really was, after going months thinking it was a polished rock. They knew that storm owls were rare, and lived in the mountains, but not much else.
“Poachers are evil things,” Dr. Farwell finally said, more venom in his voice than they had heard him use before. “And they love finding storm owls, especially their eggshells. We’re doing our best to preserve them, but it might not be enough. This egg would give us a chance to learn the best ways to help them, and breed them, and get them off the endangered species list.”
Bridget glanced up at Gertie and the rest of their group. She saw her feelings mirrored in their gaze.
“Alright. We’ll wait a few more days to bring you the egg.”
“Thank you. Have fun!” The line went dead.
“What do we do now?” Ernest, one of the friends traveling with them, asked.
“Well.” Gertie had a mischievous grin across her face. “I’m going to take a nice, long shower.”
“We should name the storm owl,” Gertie said. “Like ‘Peanut’, or something.”
Bridget gave her an incredulous look. “No.”
“That’s a dumb name.” She leaned over to zip up her suitcase while Gertie packed away the egg in its box with styrofoam lining.
“It’s an animal name. They’re all dumb.”
“What about ‘Rocky’?” Gertie suggested. “Because we thought it was a rock?”
“What if it’s not a boy storm owl?” Ernest asked. “‘Rocky’ is kind of a boy name.”
“What about ‘Sunny’?”
Bridget just groaned.
“Here’s something we could do that’s close by,” Vivien interrupted, looking at an article titled “Top Ten Things to do in South Siprisia” on her phone. “The largest collection of magical creatures in eastern Crescyth.”
“A zoo?” Gertie clarified.
“But Viv, we’re already going to see a lot of animals. Dr. Farwell’s whole...thing.”
“That’s an animal rehabilitation center,” Vivien said. “This is a tourist attraction. Lots of animals, big open spaces for them to run around in, aquariums of fish, permanent exhibits, feeding areas…”
“Sounds fun to me,” Peter Nessing said as he dried his hair, still damp from the hotel’s pool.
Charlie Nessing, currently stuck in the form of an ostrich after a transformation spell had gone wrong, honked.
“They won’t think you belong in the zoo,” Faye assured him. She had enchantments on rings and pendants and bracelets that let her understand and speak to animals, and ostriches were no exception.
Charlie made a booming noise with his throat.
“What sort of sign would you want?” Faye asked.
In the end, Charlie ended up wearing one of Peter’s t-shirts that read, “Flories Boarding School Swim Team,” to differentiate him from the ostriches that he was sure were contained in the zoo.
“I hope they have penguins!” Faye bounced in her seat as they drove to the zoo. “I’ve been dying to try this out for the longest time.” She held up her wrist and pointed to a black and white bracelet.
“They do,” Vivien said, [her accent punctuating her words]. “Their website says you can pay extra for a tour to get nice and close.”
Fay squealed in joy that she rarely exhibited, except when it came to animals.
“The website doesn’t mention ostriches though,” Ernest said pointedly.
Charlie just honked.
“What about ‘Lightning’?” Gertie suggested for the storm owl.
“No!” Ernest and Bridget said at the same time.
They pulled up to the entrance of the Norvester Zoo, paid the parking fee, and circled the lot until they found a spot with plenty of shade.
Gertie slipped the egg’s box into her backpack, making sure it didn’t jostle too much. There was no way she was letting it out of her sight, even if they were having a day of fun.
After explaining Charlie’s situation, and showing the proper paperwork as evidence, the ticketing agent granted him a ticket and a nametag that specified he was a special guest. Peter clipped it onto the ostrich’s borrowed t-shirt, ignoring Faye’s translation that it was a good thing Charlie had thought to wear it.
They entered the zoo and were daunted by the many paths diverting from the front gates. Right in front was a huge cage of colorful birds, chirping away their individual happy melodies. Signs in front of the cage denoted each type of bird and fun facts like their diet or habitat.
“Hello there!” one particularly colorful bird in a solitary cage said.
“Look, a bird I can speak to,” Peter said, grinning down at his younger sister.
Faye stuck out her tongue at him.
Peter turned back to the parrot. “Hi!”
The bird’s head moved back and forth, its pupils dilating. “Enjoy the zoo!”
“Thank you!” Peter said with a laugh.
“Say cheese!” the bird said.
“Why, are you going to take a picture?” Peter asked.
“Shut up, kids, or we’re going home!” the bird squawked.
Peter laughed awkwardly and backed away.
“Can we go to the lion exhibit?” Vivien asked, looking at the large, colorful park map she had picked up at the entrance.
“Penguins!” Faye insisted, clutching the extra ticket she had purchased to meet and pet a penguin.
Charlie honked and bopped his head against the labeled “ostrich exhibit” on the map. Clearly, his concerns had been valid.
“Whatever, you were right,” Peter grumbled.
Vivien gasped as a child threw a camera into the air. She was about to run forward and try to catch it, but before it started its arc down towards the ground, it started floating in midair.
Vivien frowned, and Gertie caught her gaze.
“Flying camera,” she explained. “To avoid needing a photographer.”
“Higher,” the older sibling in the family commanded. The camera complied, flying into the air.
One of the parents snapped their fingers, and the camera started beeping. It got faster and faster, and the family selected their pose in front of the bird cage. The camera flashed a picture.
“Another one!” the younger sibling said. “A silly one!”
The family reorganized into overly dramatic poses and made funny faces. The camera flicked around in the air, trying to get them all in the shot.
And then it crashed straight into the top of a lamppost.
It sparked and the zoo lights flickered, causing everyone to flinch and look around. The camera fell, lifeless, to the ground, to the shock of the family.
A zoo worker hurried over and put a bright yellow sign up in front of the flickering lamppost. “It’s okay, we’ll have it fixed in a jiff,” she told the family, returning the husk of the camera.
As everyone refocused on which activity to do first, Bridget held a hand up.
“We can just split up,” she said. “We’ve been in a car together for days. It’s probably a good idea to have some alone time.”
Everyone nodded at that.
Peter turned to his sister. “Faye, go ahead and see your penguins. Let’s just try to meet up for lunch.”
Faye squealed and dashed off through the crowd.
“Lions?” Vivien suggested to Gertie, and they headed for the wild feline exhibits while Peter and Charlie headed to meet other ostriches (“I may not be able to directly translate, but I know what my brother means,” Peter had explained), leaving Bridget and Ernest to shrug at each other.
“Magical mammals?” Ernest suggested, pointing to the exhibit on his copy of the map.
Bridget was dipping a salted soft pretzel into a slushie when she saw Faye trying to decide what to buy from a snack cart.
“Did the penguins say anything interesting?” Bridget asked, taking a bite of her favorite carnival treat. The sweet and salty mixed together on her tongue just the way she liked it. .
“You have no idea,” Faye said. She took a seat on the bench next to Ernest and Bridget. “They are such gossipers. Did you know how common dating is between zookeepers? The drama is worse than high school, I swear.” She swung her legs back and forth. “Did you guys see anything interesting?”
“Yeah.” Ernest nodded. “Did you know that Wabeks can actually transport? Only a few feet, but they’re the only things in the whole world that can.”
Faye’s eyes widened. “Then how do they even keep them in a cage?”
“One way mirrors,” Bridget said. “They can’t transport if they can’t see where they’re going. It’s still a trial but it’s working well.”
“You’d think they’d use magic to keep them in.” Ernest gestured to the park around them. The lamps were magically powered instead of electrically, the snack carts floated from place to place instead of rolling, and the various animal shows were accompanied by charmed effects.
Bridget shrugged. “I guess so far it hasn’t been necessary.”
Bridget’s phone pinged and she pulled up a text from Gertie.
Viv and I found a table for lunch, her sister wrote. Near the pineapple place.
It turned out “pineapple place” meant a building shaped like a pineapple, as Bridget soon discovered. It was in the center of a grid of tables, with a bird cage off to one side and a wall separating the picnic tables from a meerkat exhibit on the other. The tiny creatures seemed more inclined to hide in the shade the rocks in their enclosure provided than eat their own lunch, and it was fun to watch them slowly creep forward to inspect their food as a zookeeper waited patiently.
“Bridget!” Gertie waved Bridget, Ernest and Faye down with the grilled pineapple stick she was eating, while Vivien devoured pineapple sticky rice next to her.
“It’s so good,” Vivien said to Ernest’s perplexed look.
“Is that vegetarian?” Faye asked.
“Be right back.” Faye stood and ran to get in line.
She was scarfing down her own food by the time her brothers were summoned by Gertie’s text. Charlie’s head was down, somehow managing to look sad even as an ostrich.
“What’s wrong?” Faye asked. Charlie made a muttering sound, and Faye pat his wing in sympathy.
“Are the zookeepers mean to the other ostriches or something?” Gertie asked hesitantly.
Charlie squawked louder, more vehemently.
“No, the ostriches are really happy here actually,” Faye said. “He’s upset because a kid started crying that an ostrich had escaped. Charlie tried to show him the name tag but...”
She stopped. It seemed Charlie hadn’t told her the rest.
“The kid got scared and ran away,” Peter said.
Charlie started squawking again.
“He says that the kid’s parents were able to find him,” Faye translated quickly, trying to keep up. “There was a playground nearby and he was hiding. Everything’s fine.”
“Sounds like an eventful afternoon,” Ernest said and took a pointed drink of his soda.
One of the loud speakers crackled to life and the students jumped. “Attention attendees, the zoo will be closing due to unforeseen circumstances. Please make your way to the exits. You will be given a refund for your day, as well as for any unfulfilled special experience tickets. Please make your way to the exits.”
At the same time, the radios carried by each zoo employee sparked to life. It seemed the same message was being communicated, since they began to direct people towards the park’s entrance and exit. As calm as the staff were trying to appear, it was clear that they were acting with urgency.
Gertie frowned, and went up to the wall that separated the group from the meerkats. The tiny mammals had finally begun to eat, but darted away as Gertie approached.
“Excuse me...Marcus,” she asked, leaning over the wall to read the zookeeper’s nametag.
The zookeeper frowned. “Everything’s fine, there’s no need to worry. Just exit the park-”
“I’m not worried,” Gertie said. “I just want to know what’s going on. Did the power fail or something?”
Marcus shook his head. “I’m not at liberty to tell you. Please just exit the park.”
Suddenly, in a puff of smoke, a Wabek appeared on the wall. Gertie stumbled backwards, feeling the weight of the transporting magic in her spine, and Bridget and Faye ran over to help, followed by the rest of the group.
“Uh…” Marcus clearly wasn’t prepared to catch the creature, and it poofed itself over to the meerkat’s food and began eating it.
Marcus hurriedly pulled out his radio. “This is Rosin, the Wabek is currently in the meerkat exhibit.”
Almost on cue, the little creature gave a satisfied burp and disappeared in a poof of smoke. It reappeared on one of the light posts, and used the magic it gathered from that to transport out of sight, hopefully still within the zoo.
Bridget was the first to speak. “How?”
The zookeeper shook his head in disappointment and relayed the creature’s flight into his radio. When he was finished, he answered Bridget’s question. “We don’t know. But it’s causing small outages and knocking things over with its powers. And obviously we can’t keep the zoo open until we catch it. We can’t risk someone getting injured from its transporting, since we understand so little of-”
“We can help!” Faye exclaimed. “If I just get a bit of Wabek fur. I’m excellent at enchanting for translating spells.”
The zookeeper had to keep himself from laughing. “That’s not exactly the way things work-”
Charlie squawked at Marcus. The zookeeper stared back, a bit slack jawed, until Faye said, “He says you should believe me. Ever since he got transformed into an ostrich, I’m all he’s got.”
Charlie nodded his long neck demonstrably.
The zookeeper opened his mouth, and then Ernest stepped forward.
“I also have a way with animals.” He started whistling a tune, laced with his magic, and the meerkats began crawling forward. They reached the wall, and stood on their hind legs, large ears pointed forward and listening to Ernest’s music.
Even the pigeons that were scattered across the empty dining area landed behind Ernest, heads cocked in curiosity as to what the marvelous noise was.
The zookeeper looked a combination of impressed and mystified.
“Look, if there was a way I could…” he drifted off, as if thinking of possibilities. “But I can’t. Now, please just exit the park calmly.”
The group tried to protest, but Marcus held firm, so they started heading towards the exit.
“I can’t believe one of the Wabeks got out,” Bridget said. “It really looked like the one-way mirror was working.”
Ernest shrugged. “It’s their newest exhibit. They just haven’t worked out all the problems.”
Gertie looked up from the map she had unfolded. “The cage is kind of on our way out. Maybe we can take a look?”
The containment for the Wabeks was a large cylinder that stretched from the pavement into the air. The exhibit was made of glass, with a strange tint that Gertie recognized as a one-way mirror. The area inside was unnaturally bright in order to keep the effect working, and Gertie assumed they dimmed a bit at night so the little creatures could sleep. Even if she squinted, she couldn’t see through the opposite side of the exhibit, just the creatures’ reflection over and over and over. Though a fence kept any guests from getting too close, Bridget noticed a small keyhole and the outline of a door in the side of the exhibit. But there was definitely no way for the little Wabeks to see out for transporting purposes.
Inside, the soccer ball-sized mammals would disappear in flashes of smoke, and reappear on a branch, or vine, or on the ground, gulping down water from their feeding dishes. Their little ears twitched, their tails curled, and their eyes darted around, constantly looking for non-existent danger.
“It must be really hard to keep track of them,” Gertie said, frowning as the Wabeks poofed all around the cage. “They never really keep still.”
“I did not leave the cage open and I don’t like your insinuation that this is all my fault!” came an angry voice, and the group quickly rushed around to the other side of the round mirrored exhibit to hide from the incoming footsteps.
“I’m not insinuating anything,” came the sneering reply. “I’m just pointing out that you’re the last one on the schedule to clean out the Wabek cages, and-”
“Adelman, Kastel, stop whatever you’re doing. We have an emergency,” came a third voice.
The first voice sighed. “I know, I know. A Wabek got out. We’re going to double check-”
“Not the Wabek,” the voice said. “Someone tried to let out the lions.”
“What?” came a shout.
“Tom, are you sure it was intentional?”
“Yes,” the third voice said. “The door was unlocked.”
Gertie shot Bridget a fervent look, pointing to her bag. Bridget kept all sorts of necessities with her at all times, including enchanted lockpicks that her and Gertie were trained to use.
Peter gestured that the group should leave while they were still unnoticed.
A walkie talkie screeched to life.
“We’ve got a third one,” the person on the other end said. “The ostriches.”
There was a nervous rumble in Charlie’s throat.
“There’s a fourth!” came another voice on the walkie talkie. “The Phyllotail.”
The group slipped away, unnoticed by the zookeepers, and hurried down the pathway that led towards the aviary and the main exit.
And they walked straight into the path of a large, angry gorilla.
“Fifth!” Gertie squeaked.
To be continued...